Downtown at the coffee shop by the old train station. Gnat & Wife and a friend of Gnat’s are skating next door, or rather falling down at a rate of 17 times per minute. When not skating they’re gripping the handrail and making their way around the giant rink with the exaggerated care of a stoner making his way down the burro path at the Grand Canyon. So I’m here, having an Authentic Urban Experience. Which means the view out the window is better and the walls are genuine exposed brick, pitted with real honest scratches. For all I know this gash in the wall by my head was made by some infuriated laborer who swung his ice-hook at the boss.

It is a better view than the suburban coffee shop provides; the burb-view is nothing but car grills and the hideous Silva-Thin-Cigarette-era office building across the street. Here I can see the Carlisle go up – made nice progress since my last visit, and the exteriors are going up as well. But I always wonder who would live on the second floor of a 47 story tower. What’s the point? I know not everyone can live on the 47th floor, but if you’re going to live on the second floor, wouldn’t you feel a bit  . . . oh, I don’t know, left out when you get in the elevator and see 45 buttons over yours? And if you were the last person to get in the car and pushed “two, you’d get hard looks and small sighs from the people in the upper floors. Even if you had your arms full of groceries. Look, I know someone has to live on the second floor, but why couldn’t you do it somewhere else? Why here? It’s possible that each grouping of floors exists to make the ones above feel a little better about themselves – the teens look down on the sub tens, the twenties feel a little better than the teens, the thirties are content to be who they are (which is closer to the 40s than anyone else) and the forties are the local lords who rule supreme. Right up until the moment when the elevator stops at TWO and someone gets on to ride it down one floor.

Anyway, that’s the view.

Went to the Mall Saturday afternoon. Mission: pants. Mission successful. The Gap is the only store where they sell my waist size. Now that I’ve committed to three more pairs at this size, no French fries for me. Ever. I also needed shoes. Last year’s Chuck Tailors are trashed. And since the basic black sneaker from last spring has succumbed to street salt and general wear, I decided to pick up a pair of those as well. Anticipated net difference in personal appearance: zero. Sigh.

The first shoe store did not have the Chuck Taylors. The clerk told me to try Foot Locker, which was located at the other end of the mall. They had the Chuck Taylors. They did not have the black Reeboks. So I went back to the other store, on the other end of the mall. Same clerk. “So you don’t carry Converse?” I asked. He shrugged. “We used to.” I informed him that his earlier advice was indeed spot-on, as Foot Locker had the shoes.

“Foot Locker, us, Lady Foot Locker, it’s all the same company.”

What? Then I remembered: not only had the nation’s shoe-importing concerns cohered into one multi-brand Katamari Damacy rolling from mall to mall, they had once been the Woolworth’s chain. Woolworth had gotten out of the dime-store business, changed its name to something meaningless (google update: Venator. Urg. Because, you know, “Woolworth’s” means nothing to anyone, and “Venator” rings so many bells it sounds like a hurricane hit Notre  Dame Cathedral.) They left the Woolworth Building thereafter. This always struck me as the saddest and most absurd ending to a great retail chain – from mighty coast-to-coast power, bringing mass culture to the smallest downtown Main street, to its elegant Cass Gilbert tower, paid for in cash, to a seller of odor-absorbing socks and puffy shoes to style-starved men.

Good price on those Reeboks, though.  

There was also a tie sale at Dayton’s (not the name of the store; hasn’t been called that for years – it’s Marshall Field’s, and soon will be Macy’s, or perhaps Venamacy Fieldton’s, but most people still think of it as Dayton’s – a lesson in branding that’s utterly lost on the idiots who consolidate these stores into meaningless globs of disconnected, rootless retailers) and for once I swore not to be swayed by the buy-two-save-more hook.  I can usually find one tie I like. Two is harder. Three is impossible. For a moment I was swayed by this –

- until I realized that I liked it as a color palette for a website about the late 70s, not something to hang around my neck. I found a nice green tie and purchased it from a grave man named OKON. What a fine name. You can really get your way with a name like that. Point at people and say OKON SAYS, and it will be done.

All in all, a dispiriting trip, but it got me out among my fellow citizens. Not that they seemed glad about it. Then again, no one stared and hissed you should be home scanning something.

Stopped off at the train station on the way back. Like most people with their first camera-equipped cellphone, I’m always looking for interesting things to snap. Little everyday moments that sum up the quixotic, fleeting nature of modern life.

Like most people, I just end up shooing pictures of myself in the bathroom mirror.

LATER It was sleeting by the time I left. It’s now snowing, and the world has that Winter Fargin’ Wonderland look again. Gnat wept when she saw the snow. Honestly: she wants green grass and flowers, as do we all. Better in the middle of March than April, I suppose, although I expect that as well.

Two columns to write now; Sopranos after that. New Matchbook & Quirk; see you tomorrow.